by Catherine Haug, (photo, right, from Land Sea and Sky (3))
When you have something in your eye – liquid or solid – it is very distracting, but can also lead to infection if it isn’t removed. My first experience with an eye wash happened in high school chemistry class. I had a nasty chemical on my fingers, then used them to rub my eye. Shortly after, the eye started to burn and our teacher escorted me to the bench for an eye wash.
When you are out in the wild hiking or camping, carry an eye cup/shot glass in your backpack for emergencies. At home, you can use a bowl, or an eye cup/shot glass. However, an eye cup/shot glass should not be used to remove foreign objects. The wash solution should be sterile.
The wash solution and delivery instrument
NOTE: I am not a doctor and am not qualified to advise you on your specific health situation. My intent in writing this article is merely to raise awareness and express opinion.
The wash solution should be sterile. Use:
- Sterilized water, preferably from a reverse osmosis system, then sterilized by boiling;
- Commercial sterile saline eye wash solution; or
- Homemade sterile saline solution (see instructions below) or sterilized water, at a temperature between 60°F and 100°F, such as room temperature. Use filtered water, preferably from a reverse osmosis system, then sterilize it.
See Eyewash Solutions below for instructions/recipes.
If using an herbal eye wash it can be a solution or suspension of the powdered herb in sterile water or saline, or a couple drops of herbal tincture added to sterile water or saline. See Herbal Wash, below, for more.
To deliver the wash to your eye(s), you can use a bowl or an eye cup. I prefer the eye cup, especially for herbal washes.
Administering the eye wash
If using a bowl:
- Pour the wash into the bowl.
- Hold your breath and tilt your head forward until your face is submerged; your eye(s) should be open.
- Rotate your eye(s) in circles, to expose as much of the eye(s) to the wash as possible.
- Lift your face from the bowl and blink several times.
- Repeat several times.
If using an eye cup/shot glass:
This is especially useful when using an herbal eye wash but also works with just water (as described above).
- Clean eye up/glass well. If glass, the best way is to put it in boiling water for a few seconds. Otherwise use alcohol, then wipe dry.
- Fill cup/glass with the solution.
- With your head tilted forward, bring the cup/glass to your eye and position so that its rim is snug to your eye socket.
- Tilt your head back (the cup/glass will be mostly upside down, held snug to your eye socket) with your eye open.
- Rotate your eye and blink several times to cover eye with the wash.
- Lower your head and remove the cup/glass.
- Repeat several times
Another method is to use an eye dropper, but I don’t think it does as good a job at washing the entire eye.
Sterile saline solution
This recipe is from About Kid’s Health (4) and Chemistry About (5). The ideal ratio of salt to water for a 0.9% saline solution is 9 grams salt per liter of water (5); the instructions below use more familiar measurements for Americans (4).
You will need:
- 1 cup distilled water or reverse-osmosis-filtered water;
- ½ tsp non-iodized table salt (iodized salt, rock salt and unrefined sea salt are NOT recommended)
- saucepan with lid
- sterile jar or bottle with lid for storage
- Sterilize the jar or bottle and its lid in boiling water, as you would for canning foods.
- Make the solution: Put one cup of filtered water and ½ teaspoon of salt into the pot. Put the lid on.
- Boil for 15 minutes with the lid on (set a timer).
- Alternate method: Bring water to a boil in saucepan, then stir in the salt. Put lid on the pan and remove from heat.
- Cool and use/store: Set the pan aside, with the lid on, until cooled to a room temperature.
- Carefully pour the salt and water (normal saline) from the pan into the jar or bottle and put the lid on. Label the jar/bottle, and use solution within 24 hours. Pour any unused solution down the drain after the 24 hour period.
Herbal eye wash solutions
These are recommended by 7Song, and demonstrated in his 16 minute video, below (2):
- For irritated eye, mix slippery elm into saline solution or sterile water.
- For inflamed eye, ad 2 drops of eyebright tincture to saline solution or sterile water;
- For infected eye – (bacteria or virus) – a.k.a, conjunctivitis, add 2 drops goldenseal tincture to saline solution or sterile water.
- Wiki-How: wikihow.com/Wash-Eyes-With-Water
- Learning Herbs with 7Song, on eye cups: youtube.com/watch?v=93W0UmZRBUI
- Eye cup photo: Land Sea Sky (landseaskyco.com/images/Canon-Eye-Cup-L18.jpg)
- About Kids Health: aboutkidshealth.ca/En/HealthAZ/TestsAndTreatments/HomeHealthCare/Pages/Normal-Saline-Solution-How-prepare-home.aspx
- Chemistry about: chemistry.about.com/od/labrecipes/a/How-To-Make-Saline-Solution.htm
- Herbal First Aid: Eye Cup and Eye Wash video, youtube .com/watch?v=93W0UmZRBUI (remove space between youtube and .com to view video on You Tube)